Is 'Big Tech' too big? A look at growing antitrust scrutiny

FILE - In this May 1, 2019, file photo, a woman walks past a Google sign in San Francisco. The U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are moving to investigate Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple over their aggressive business practices, and the House Judiciary Committee has announced an antitrust probe of unidentified technology companies.

WASHINGTON — Big Tech is about to become big politics in Washington.

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will launch its investigation into the market dominance of Silicon Valley's biggest names, starting with a look at the impact of the tech giants' platforms on news content, the media and the spread of misinformation online.

In a Capitol steeped in partisanship, inflamed by special counsel Robert Mueller's report and Democrats' intensifying probes of President Donald Trump, the House Judiciary Committee's investigation of tech market power stands out. Not only is it bipartisan, but it's also the first such review by Congress of a sector that for more than a decade has enjoyed haloed status and a light touch from federal regulators.

With regulators at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission apparently pursuing antitrust investigations of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, and several state attorneys general exploring bipartisan action of their own, the tech industry finds itself in a precarious moment — with the dreaded M-word increasingly used to describe their way of doing business.

"These are monopolies," Rep. David Cicilline said on "Fox News Sunday."

Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, will be leading Tuesday's subcommittee hearing and vowed that the panel will broadly investigate the digital marketplace and "the dominance of large technology platforms," with an eye toward legislative action to increase competition.

"We know the problems; they're easy to diagnose," Cicilline said. "Shaping the solutions is going to be more difficult."

Politicians on the left and right have differing gripes about the tech giants. Some complain of aggressive conduct that squashes competition. Others perceive a political bias or tolerance of extremist content. Still others are upset by the industry's harvesting of personal data.

Several Democratic presidential candidates think they have the solution: breaking up the companies on antitrust grounds. Cicilline has called that "a last resort," but the idea has currency with both major political parties, including at the White House.

President Donald Trump on Monday noted the huge fines imposed by European regulators on the biggest tech companies.

"We are going to be looking at them differently," he said in an interview on CNBC.

"We should be doing what (the Europeans) are doing," Trump said. "Obviously, there is something going on in terms of monopoly."